The crash in the activity of tourism-related businesses is evident. It does not require much explanation. The ‘feeding flows’ have virtually stopped; for the last several months the number of visitors has been a shadow of what they used to be. For the businesses at the heart of the local economy and prosperity – shops, restaurants, travel agencies, hotels, casinos – the equation is a simple and sad one: no customers, no revenue. And there is no end in sight for this sorry state of affairs.
Many expected the golden week to signal a turnaround. It turned out to be a great disillusionment: fewer visitors and shorter “incursions.” The gap was especially visible in hotel occupation rates, which were well below the inflated expectations prevailing just a few weeks before.
In hindsight it isn’t easy to understand how the expectations were allowed to rise so vividly and publicly. After all, the region is closed to foreigners and for practical purposes, to all visitors other than Chinese nationals coming from mainland China. As travellers, they must apply for visas; there were certainly advance signs that the figures would inevitably fail to impress.
On the employment side, the effects are also becoming increasingly visible, albeit with a natural time gap. Many delaying tactics were (and are still) being used: temporary layoffs, mandatory holidays, reduced hours and salaries, and similar measures. In the end, the equation is also simple. Businesses without revenue will, sooner or later, be unable to pay wages and will dispose of staff.
If they are non-resident workers, they will be in the first line of fire. They will leave the territory and will not show in the local statistics, giving an illusory comfort. But sooner or later, it will inevitably touch the locals. The figures for unemployment and under-employment can only increase in the coming months. The restoration of the labor force to its previous levels of operational capability will take a long time.
No aspect of Macau’s society is immune to the current situation. For many, incomes will keep dropping, regardless of government palliative measures. But vulnerability levels are not evenly distributed. People are being stripped of their livelihood. In the absence of a clear direction and timeframe to deal with this deteriorating situation, the conditions for social anguish and restlessness will keep brewing. Official declarations (and also omissions), regardless of their intentions, may create the impression that time is not of the essence – yet, it is.